Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character

Overview

Our nation began with the simple phrase, “We the People.” But who were and are “We”? Who were we in 1776, in 1865, or 1968, and is there any continuity in character between the we of those years and the nearly 300 million people living in the radically different America of today?

With Made in America, Claude S. Fischer draws on decades of historical, psychological, and social research to answer that question by tracking the evolution of American character and culture over three ...

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Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character

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Overview

Our nation began with the simple phrase, “We the People.” But who were and are “We”? Who were we in 1776, in 1865, or 1968, and is there any continuity in character between the we of those years and the nearly 300 million people living in the radically different America of today?

With Made in America, Claude S. Fischer draws on decades of historical, psychological, and social research to answer that question by tracking the evolution of American character and culture over three centuries. He explodes myths—such as that contemporary Americans are more mobile and less religious than their ancestors, or that they are more focused on money and consumption—and reveals instead how greater security and wealth have only reinforced the independence, egalitarianism, and commitment to community that characterized our people from the earliest years. Skillfully drawing on personal stories of representative Americans, Fischer shows that affluence and social progress have allowed more people to participate fully in cultural and political life, thus broadening the category of “American” —yet at the same time what it means to be an American has retained surprising continuity with much earlier notions of American character.

Firmly in the vein of such classics as The Lonely Crowd and Habits of the Heart—yet challenging many of their conclusions—Made in America takes readers beyond the simplicity of headlines and the actions of elites to show us the lives, aspirations, and emotions of ordinary Americans, from the settling of the colonies to the settling of the suburbs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The more America changes, the more it stays the same, according to this engrossing historical survey. Drawing on everything from economic data and mortality statistics to studies of colonial portraiture, University of California-Berkeley sociologist Fischer assesses broad trends across four centuries of American life. His measured but upbeat view of the evolving American experience will disappoint the hell-in-a-handbasket crowd: he finds that Americans have grown more religious and charitable over time, and markedly less violent and nomadic, while remaining roughly unchanged in their propensity toward greed and consumerism. Through it all, he discerns a benignly Tocquevillian trait that he calls “voluntarism,” an individualism softened by unforced solidarity that fulfills itself by freely building communities, be they frontier villages, dissenting churches, egalitarian families, or Internet chat groups. While vast gains in health, wealth, and political freedoms have transformed our lives, they have, he contends, made Americans more voluntaristic and thus “more characteristically 'American'... insistently independent but still sociable, striving, and sentimental.” Fischer's lively prose argues these propositions with a wealth of hard evidence and illustrates them with piquant vignettes of people of all eras muddling through. The result is a shrewd, generous, convincing interpretation of American life. (May)
Financial Times
"[A] vastly ambitious project. . . . [R]eadable and entertaining .. . . [A] formidable achievement. . . . brought to life by the stories of ordinary people.”
New Repubilc

"Fischer has done scholars and lay readers alike an enormous service. . . . Made in America is exactly the sort of grand and controversial narrative, exactly the sort of bold test of old assumptions, that is needed to keep the study of American history alive and honest."--New Republic

Times Higher Education

"A thoughtful assessment of the patterns of American life over the course of the past several centuries. . . . Challenges a number of myths. . . . Has a wealth of important insights and reads well from beginning to tend. All in all, it is a lively and intriguing effort to understand the most important elements of American life."—Times Higher Education
Robert Coles
“The wants, needs, hopes, and aspirations of generations of Americans—‘all sorts and conditions’ of them—are given careful and circumspect attention in this arresting portrait of a nation ever, it seems, changing, growing. Here is a book that will tell its readers much about how and why a people once struggling to find and define themselves—the very terrain of their country, and too, its values and ideas—became the members of a United States of America whose many variations and sometime contradictions are brought tellingly alive in pages of clear, illuminating, and well-informed prose.”
Robert Bellah
“Made in America is a book rich in its findings and judicious in its interpretations.  Fischer has uncovered a lot of things that even those of us who have long studied the United States didn't know, and he has also expertly shown that many of the things we thought we knew are simply wrong. The book will make any reader wiser and more careful in thinking about this strange country in which we live.”
New Republic

"Fischer has done scholars and lay readers alike an enormous service. . . . Made in America is exactly the sort of grand and controversial narrative, exactly the sort of bold test of old assumptions, that is needed to keep the study of American history alive and honest."—New Republic
Boston Review

"Brave and ambitious. . . . [Fischer's] book will take its place in a distinguished scholarly tradition that historians have all but abandoned for nearly half a century."
Library Journal
In this exhaustively documented volume, Fischer (sociology, Univ. of California, Berkeley; America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone, 1880–1940) asks whether and how the lives of people in the mainstream of American society have changed over the course of time from the Colonial era to the 21st century. Chewing through reams of data (enumerated in 107 pages of works cited and 92 pages of notes), Fischer gauges the state of the American psyche and expounds on the themes of security (safety, economic stability, and health), goods (i.e., consumerism), groups (membership in bourgeois society), public spaces (including political participation), and mentality (self-improvement, religion, education, relationships, etc.) and explores their evolution over time in conventional American society. He credits an ingrained sense of voluntarism in part for maintaining the national character. Fischer's interpretation leads him to conclude that mainstream American culture and character have changed less than one might have imagined, given the dramatic changes introduced by modernity. VERDICT A thorough work best appreciated by serious readers in sociology and U.S. social history.—Donna L. Davey, New York Univ. Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226251448
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 971,876
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Claude S. Fischer is professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of many books, including Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years and America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

1. The Stories We Tell

2. Security

3. Goods

4. Groups

5. Public Spaces

6. Mentality

7. Closing

Notes

List of Abbreviations

Works Cited

Index

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